The church has been at the forefront of many social changes—in relationship to medical care, to slavery, to prisons, to workers, and more—all of those changes emerge from the conviction that Jesus Christ changes lives by the power of the Spirit. If we attempt to offer social change without transforming power, we will ultimately be able to offer neither. It is the Gospel that has transformed culture, and it has done so as it has transformed human hearts.
At the beginning of Acts 3, at the gate of the Jerusalem temple, the apostles Peter and John encounter a disabled man who thinks he needs one thing: money. If he doesn’t have any money, he thinks, he can’t eat—and if he can’t eat, then he’ll be dead. So he needs money.
And so we read that when Peter and John were on their way into the temple, “he asked to receive alms” (Acts 3:3). But the two apostles, having now witnessed the risen Lord and seen Him return to heaven, having received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, did something the man did not expect:
Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. (Acts 3:4–7)
When people today fix their attention on the church of Jesus Christ, they typically are expecting, like the beggar at the temple gate, to get something from it. Over the last century, the church has taught people to expect slogans, political agendas, and psychological cures—and in exchange, it has taught them to expect to be asked for money. But does the church really have anything worthwhile to offer? Does it have the power to remake a life?
A Message of Transforming Power
We may be tempted to say that the miracle of healing is what Peter and John had to offer. But the healing miracle, like all of the signs and wonders of the New Testament, was only a pointer to a greater miracle, which was the reconciliation of a sinful people to holy God.
That’s why Peter, when he saw that the overflowing joy of the healed man was drawing a crowd, seized the opportunity to share not an offer of healing or a promise of prosperity but the Gospel of forgiveness. It was the cosmic authority of the risen Lord, whom Israel had sent to the cross, that had made the lame man walk (Acts 3:12–16).